By Tess Holmgren

Starting Friday 3rd May, the Green Living Lab will already be hosting its fourth Green Student Bootcamp Challenge. This year students in the Netherlands are invited to go on a tour of the Netherlands to learn about healthy urban living and a series of workshops will take place in Amsterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, Delft, and Rotterdam.

Starting from the ground up, this year’s first Bootcamp session is all about ‘Seeds and Soil’ and it will take place at the Tolhuistuin in Amsterdam on Friday 3rd May. Students will learn about the importance of biodiversity in the soil for life on earth and will roll up their sleeves to build their own DIY worm hotel home composting system, learn how to grow healthy plants at home for food and sow seeds. Commonland will also be there to talk about restorative solutions for environmental degradation.

I caught up with GLL workshop leader Sameena Safiruddin who will co-lead a workshop on seeds and how to grow healthy plants at home, in order to ask about her inspiration for healthy urban living.

Please tell us about your work.
I am a permaculture designer, I lead foraging workshops and gardening tours, teach school children how to grow plants and I am a willow weaver. I work with diverse community garden projects and nature education projects. Amongst other things I’ve helped set up community garden projects in the east of Amsterdam, including a public garden and a community arts and cultural space for people in the neighbourhood. For me it’s mostly about the nature connection. It’s not so much growing plants as getting in touch with nature: learning how things grow, learning the importance of insects, and so on. My work is, for me, about bringing nature back into the city and into people’s lives, and bringing back that connection to the natural world.

Without revealing too much about what’s in store, could you tell us what we can expect from your participation in this year’s Green Student Bootcamp Challenge?
Those joining can expect to get their hands dirty. I think this is important because many don’t do this anymore, too many people spend most of their days sitting behind a computer. So this workshop will be a fun chance for people to use their senses and interact with their environment differently.

What do you hope participating students will take away from the experience?
I hope to inspire students to be more conscious and aware of the nature or the lack of nature around them. I want them to feel both connected and aware of nature. I also hope they feel like they have agency- that they can actively participate in their communities and feel like they have the ability to influence change.

How do you see our relationship with nature and with our environment?
I feel humankind has separated themselves from nature quite a bit. Especially considering we were hunter gatherers at first- foraging for food and intimately connected with the cycles of life. Then with the agricultural revolution we were distanced from the land, and then with industrialisation even more so. For instance now we look at our clocks, not at the sun and the stars. We are no longer as involved with the natural world, instead it has been separated and put in a sterilised environment: our food is mostly wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. Of course this is not true for all people and in many ways I think the awareness of the environment is coming back. But generally this is how I feel our relationship with the environment has evolved.

Has your work changed the way you lead your life? If so, how?
I feel my intuition has led me to all the work I am involved with. At first my goal was to work for an ethical organisation and so I really made a conscious decision to let my ethics and morals guide me. I would ask myself in the face of the work I was doing or in looking for a new job whether this is something that is good for me and good for the earth. I let this act as a filter and, honestly, since I started doing this and dedicating myself to what I love people have started finding me as opposed to the other way around. Because of this there hasn’t been a need to proactively look for new projects to do. I have always had a connection and love for nature, when I was little I had one tree I used to play in. I am still trying to figure out if there was a moment that caused this connection – perhaps it was at school when my teacher, Mr Woods, spoke about the Amazon and he told me about the areas of trees being cut that were the size of football fields. This really moved me and I don’t know if it was him who planted the seed but this for me isn’t a definitive moment, I think my love for the natural world is something that has grown inside me slowly over time and which I’ve let guide my life.

What does healthy urban living mean to you?
I think it’s important to think holistically- from caring for the soil to voting and taking political action. For me healthy urban living also means living as consciously in natural cycles as we can. By this I mean to cause as little disturbance as possible to the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the waste cycle and so on. Biking for instance is a good example because you are not producing waste. Also eating healthy, local, organic food and then composting it so it goes back to the earth. Or being conscious about the waste cycle you are producing personally by the things you buy – to be mindful of buying less, only the things you need and quality products or using rainwater to water the garden. This also involves visiting green areas and to keep creating them. I think we have the ability and responsibility to actively create more biodiversity in the city which is so good for the mind body and soul. We can actually do so much more of this in the city already, and I personally try to do as much of this as I can.